2018 Distinguished Alumni: Freida Brown
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2018 Distinguished Alumni: Freida Brown

Frieda Brown came to Washington
University as a freshman in 1966. Our freshman class was the largest number of Black students they’d ever had at Washington U, and there were 12 of us. By
’68 there was a large enough population of Black students and the grad students
had a better sense of Black identity. Plus it was the ’60s. They had all kinds
of things that were going on back then that kind of heightened our awareness
and a sense of Black pride. And I think that whole movement is probably what precipitated us actually coming together as Black students. We would meet and talk
about serious things as a group and Freida would be sitting quietly and listening; then she would speak and everybody was quiet. And we would turn to her and it was like she could put everything in perspective for us. For me, it was a whole
change, having come from a very segregated place to now feeling very
proud in who you were. In 1968, African American students demonstrated at
Brookings Hall and presented a position paper to university leaders that became a kind of bill of rights for Black students at the University. There were no Black faculty on campus, there were no classes relative to Black students, there were no Black study programs, and those were the things that we felt we needed, as well as more Black students to come to the campus. A chancellor came and
heard what our demands were and said that he would address those demands, and he did. He listened to us and really put forth an effort to make a difference. Frieda went to Kenya in 1994 to lead the Nairobi campus of the United States International University. There was a dirt road leading up to the campus and it’s red clay, so I remember driving and the dust was flying all over. There was no water; they had opened up the dormitories and the water would come and go. The electricity was there sometimes and sometimes it wasn’t, and I remember sitting in my office and the lights went out. And
we had this faculty member with this big booming voice, and he said, “Don’t worry about the lights just listen! Just listen and get it in your head!” You know and I hear
him from my office. Boy, these kids, they’re really having a hard time, “What
am I gonna do?” Africa was always considered this dark continent that, you know, institutions weren’t good and there was no quality there. And one of the things that I wanted to do was to provide a real, quality institution for young people in Kenya. It expanded; before I left we had
62 different nations on campus. To see the reputation of the university grow over time is probably the thing that I am most proud of. Seeing it grow from 800 degree seeking students to about 6,200 when I left. We had presidents’ kids come to the University, Vice Presidents’ kids, ministers’ kids. Alumni would come back and say, “You
know, you not only made a difference in my life and that of my family,
but in my village.” Freida is a visionary. She saw the end result before anybody and the way she made that end result a reality is through her leadership. And the team that
she led included everybody. You could see them just lift up, “She appreciates what I
do!” and they want to work hard for her. Her ability to lead is something that I witness with a lot of pride and a lot of emotion. Freida is a leader who
leads by empowering other people. I just felt a sense of pride in what we had accomplished. It’s not about being in a certain level in a certain position so that you can do things for people As it is doing things with people. Freida you deserve this. You don’t ask for
it but you deserve it, and it is well earned.

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